Please tell me that YCP students wouldn’t do this

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Here’s an article from the popular press, demonstrating the ingenuity of a college student from the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta. Josh Le, along with Professor Rachel McQueen, tested the hypothesis that clothes washing will diminish the numbers of microorganisms found in clothing. To accomplish this, Josh wore a pair of jeans for 13 days, and then found how many bacteria could be isolated from the clothes. He found that there were large numbers of  about 5 species of bacteria, which were typical of those normally found on human skin. Then Josh went to the dormitory laundry room, washed the jeans, and then put them back on. This time he wore the jeans continuously for 15 months, without washing them during that time. Astoundingly, he found almost identical numbers of the same bacteria in the jeans.

It turns out that Mr. Le’s interest in the project was initiated by a fashion desire. Here’s his rationale:

“The rule of thumb is to wear them for about six months for the desired look so some people don’t wash them at all during that time but some wash every month,” said Le. “As you wear it, it develops and I eventually got the creases I had wanted. I’m happy with the results.”

I, for one, had never heard of this method for having those expensive designer jeans look just so, but I am all for ingenuity like this. Additionally, the opportunity to learn something about the microbes that live on the human body is always beneficial. What might be going on here? We will learn about the normal microbiota in Chapter 14; these are organisms which are found in incredibly large numbers on every exposed surface of the human body, in the absence of any disease. These organisms have a perfect environment on human skin and other surfaces, whereas a pair of jeans is going to be a less than optimal environment for growth. Consider: all living cells require a source of nutrition and water for normal cellular growth. We will learn about classes of microorganisms (and you undoubtedly can think of multicellular organisms) that are able to acquire nutrition from sunlight, but they still require water for normal metabolism. So it turns out, and we’ll will discover this in a lab in the second half of the course, that the normal microbiota of the skin really like to remain on skin. Consequently, I’m not particularly surprised that the organisms would prefer that environment to an old pair of jeans.

I’m not sure what more to say about Mr. Le’s story, except to leave you with the last line of the article from the Toronto Sun, which reports that he has a new pair of jeans that he is currently “working in,” with the aforementioned old jeans reserved for “special” occasions. I’m pretty sure his friends will smell him coming, but needn’t worry about catching anything from him.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on January 27, 2011, in Bogus!, Microbes in the News. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Despite the apparent lack of risk to the wearer, I insist on having freshly laundered clothes.

  2. Rachel Florance

    It was very interesting that there was the same amount of microorganisms on the jeans after 15 months and after 13 days. I would have never thought that.

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